Relegation Could Be Confirmed as Blues Host Birmingham
Friday, 12th Apr 2019 13:34
Town host Birmingham City needing to win to stand any chance of delaying relegation to the third tier for the first time in 62 years for another week.
While the drop into League One has seemed inevitable for some weeks, if not months, Saturday could well be the day when the Blues’ 17-year stay in the Championship comes to an end. They were last in the third tier - then the Third Division South - in 1956/57.
Town, 14 points from safety with only five to play, have to beat the Midlanders in order to put off the inevitable until Good Friday when they face Preston at Deepdale, but even then they require results elsewhere to go in their favour.
If they pick up all three points against Birmingham, the Blues will finally be mathematically confirmed in League One if all three of Wigan, Reading and Millwall win.
The Royals host Brentford and Millwall are at Sheffield United on Saturday, while Wigan play Norwich at home on Sunday.
Manager Paul Lambert, speaking after Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat at Brentford, says the Blues’ demotion isn’t down to recent results but goes back to the start of the campaign.
“It’s not this game that’s put us in the position, it’s August, it’s away from August,” he said.
“If the club was doing great in August I’d be absolutely delighted because wouldn’t be here and the club would be in a great place and it would be going well because these fans deserve the club to be better than what it is.
“The support is unrivalled, it’s unrivalled the support in the position that we’re in and I wish Ipswich were doing brilliant from August.
“It’s not this game, it’s not last week, it’s not three games ago, it’s not 10 games ago, it’s when you come back in July, that’s when your season starts, not November, December, it starts in July your season, and that’s what’s cost us.”
Despite the inevitability of relegation, Lambert wants to finish the season in a positive manner rather than with a whimper.
“We try everything we can,” he said. “We’ll have a great support on Saturday again, it’ll be really good, we might get one or two back.
“As I said before, we’ve played some really good football for a few months now without getting the breaks and we did really well, and as I said before, they’ll be better for it.
“If you said to me that maybe three or four of those draws were wins and that’s the worst we’ve played for 45 minutes, I’d have taken it. I’d have taken it if I’d had the wins before.
“But the performances have matched incredible high levels without getting the rewards, so 45 minutes out of those months, you can take it.”
The Blues drew 2-2 at Birmingham in September prior to Lambert taking over following Paul Hurst’s disastrous spell as boss, but it was a result typical of the season with Town 2-0 in front at half-time before letting the three points slip after the break.
“I don’t know many draws I’ve had, but there have been too many draws, far too many,” the current Blues boss reflected.
“But, as I said before, [that can happen when] you lose a lot of goals out of your team, you lose 45 goals out of your team with the three lads [David McGoldrick, Martyn Waghorn and Joe Garner] that left the club.
“Forty-five goals is incredible! It’s incredible to lose that number of goals. The club has a transition and goes another way, loses managers, turnover is high, young players are coming on, so, as I said before, the club has got to have a structure on which it’s got to build, but the great thing about it is that it’s got a great support.”
Lambert is likely to make changes to his team with the Blues playing their third game in eight days and with one or two players who were unavailable at Brentford in line to return.
“Depending on who’s fit at the training ground,” Lambert said. “One or two, we’ll see how they are on Saturday.
“As I said, three games in a week is a lot. A lot of lads have not played for a number of [weeks], so I’ll see how we are.”
Regarding the players who missed out at Brentford, he added: “Skusey had a bit of fluid in his knee from Saturday. It was getting better, hopefully he’s OK for Saturday.
“Gwion Edwards, I don’t know, maybe, it’s his groin. Jon Nolan, maybe. Will Keane maybe. James Collins maybe. It’s all maybes at the moment with the guys. We’ll see how they are.”
Nolan has been out with an achilles injury, Keane is still on the way back from his hamstring problem and Collins played his first game following his calf strain at Bolton last weekend but was rested on Wednesday.
Bartosz Bialkowski will continue in goal, while Josh Emmanuel could return at right-back having been rested on Wednesday. Myles Kenlock will again be at left-back.
Skipper Luke Chambers will be partnered by either Toto Nsiala or Collins at the centre of the defence.
In midfield, Skuse could return in the deeper role with Nolan perhaps also back in the side. Flynn Downes and Trevoh Chalobah would appear more likely to be in the XI than Andre Dozzell and Teddy Bishop, who may drop to the bench having started the last two games.
Collin Quaner again looks set to be the central striker with Keane probably among the subs with Alan Judge set to be on the left and Gwion Edwards on the right if he is over his groin problem.
Birmingham, 17th on 45 points following their nine-point deduction for transgressing Financial Fair Play rules, go into the game having beaten third-placed Leeds 1-0 at home last Saturday and after a 1-1 draw with Sheffield United, who are second, on Wednesday, also at St Andrew’s.
Manager Garry Monk says that given the busy schedule he will gauge his players’ fitness and freshness ahead of the match.
“The squad needs to be ready," he told the Birmingham official site. “It has got to be each game at a time and assess the players, if I feel they have enough energy, freshness and focus to go again.
“I felt that pretty much for Sheffield United after Leeds. I will have a good look at them for this weekend. We have worked extremely hard on conditioning them.
"When you work hard in pre-season, and throughout the season - as well as the tactical and mental approach – then the conditioning is for these months. Knowing that within yourself you have got that capability to push yourself physically.
“This season I have been particularly pleased with the physical output. We have placed a huge demand on the players and they have come through it.
“To do that with a small squad, with niggles, with everything else that has been against us – that adversity we have faced – it’s a testament to the staff but also the players to take it on board.
"That’s why, in these critical moments, they have been able to produce performances like that have done this week.”
Regarding Town, he added: "I've watched their last four or five games, and similar to us when we were on that losing streak, their results don't really reflect their performance levels.
"I think they’ll feel pretty unfortunate that they haven't picked up better results in recent games than they have because they're clearly fighting.
"And I've warned my players already that we have to be ready for that fight again and focus needs to be there and the same mentality that we've shown in the previous two game this week."
He continued: "Ipswich still play good football and they mix it up. Each game is different for us and we have to approach it right.
"We have our game plan and we'll try and execute that in this game, and what we feel that Ipswich might do and not do and what their strengths and weaknesses are. It's about giving ourselves the best opportunity of winning the game."
Midfielder Maikel Kieftenbeld (knee) is the visitors' only injury absentee.
Historically, Town have had the better record in fixtures between the sides, winning 35 times (32 in the league), drawing 17 (17) and losing 30 (24).
At St Andrew’s in September, Paul Hurst continued to wait for his first win as Blues boss after two second-half Lukas Jutkiewicz goals denied Town victory having been two goals in front via Jon Nolan and Matthew Pennington at half-time, the game ending 2-2.
Nolan netted on 26 and Pennington - who was sent off for a second yellow card late on - doubled the lead in the 41st minute as the Blues looked set to claim three points until Jutkiewicz struck on 48 and 68 to dash their hopes.
At Portman Road on the opening day of last season Joe Garner got his Town career off to a goalscoring start by netting a second-half debut goal to see the Blues to a 1-0 victory over the Midlanders.
Garner turned in a Knudsen cross five minutes after the break to win the game, however, the victory was marred by a serious knee ligament injury sustained by Dozzell just before the break.
Blues midfielder Emyr Huws, yet to return from last season's knee injury, had a spell on loan with Birmingham while a Manchester City player during the second half of 2013/14 making 17 starts and scoring two goals.
Tom Adeyemi, still on the way back from the achilles injury he suffered in pre-season, spent the whole of the same season with the Midlanders making 36 starts and four sub appearances, netting three times.
Ex-Blues loanee David Stockdale, currently out of favour at St Andrew’s, made 18 appearances for Town between July and December 2011, while defender Michael Morrison hails from Haverhill.
Town right-back Jordan Spence spent time on trial with Birmingham in November 2016 shortly after his trial with the Blues but before he signed at Portman Road.
Saturday’s referee is Jeremy Simpson from Lancashire, who has shown 145 yellow cards and five red in 36 games this season.
The controversial official’s last Town match was the 2-0 loss at Middlesbrough in December in which he awarded the Teessiders a controversial penalty when Spence was harshly adjudged to have hauled Jordan Hugill to the ground. He also booked Chalobah and Downes as well as one Boro player.
Simpson was also the official in charge of the 2-1 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday in August when he controversially red-carded Blues central defender Nsiala and booked Jonas Knudsen, Ellis Harrison and two Owls.
Before that he refereed the 3-0 home defeat by Hull City in April in which he booked only Bersant Celina.
Prior to that game he had refereed only two Town matches in which he awarded a total of four penalties.
The 1-0 defeat at Rotherham in April 2017 which he gave a seventh-minute spot-kick when Emmanuel bundled over Jon Taylor. Dean Gerken saved Danny Ward’s kick.
Loanee Toumani Diagouraga was the only Blues player booked in that fixture, along with two Rotherham players.
Prior to that he was the man in the middle for the 2-1 defeat at Reading in September 2016 in which he notoriously awarded three penalties which led to the game’s three goals.
Danny Williams won the match with the third and spot-kick deep in second-half injury time, Knudsen having been adjudged to have hauled down Joey van den Berg at a corner.
In first-half injury time Ward had been harshly penalised for handball for the game’s first penalty and Garath McCleary put the Royals in front.
Brett Pitman fired home Town’s - also contentious - spot-kick five minutes after the break for a foul by Tyler Blackett.
Simpson also booked nine players in that game, five Royals and Knudsen, Chambers, Skuse and Christophe Berra.
Squad from: Bialkowski, Gerken, Bree, Emmanuel, Kenlock, Collins, Chambers (c), Knudsen, Nsiala, Skuse, Chalobah, Downes, Nolan, Dozzell, Bishop, El Mizouni, Edwards, Dawkins, Judge, Quaner, Jackson, Keane.
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